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  • Shawna Christenson

Develop a Skill set for Life-- Paul Kiesling (8th grade)



Picture a giant flywheel and then imagine that your task is to make it rotate for as long and fast as possible. When you are initially pushing the flywheel it moves imperceptibly, however after you are able to rotate it several times, it starts to gain momentum, and then there is a breakthrough. The flywheel starts to accelerate and move faster and faster at exponential speeds. All of the small pushes at the beginning compound to create massive results. This is the Flywheel Model introduced by Jim Collins in one of my favorite books Good to Great. His reflection on this concept states that with each turn, the flywheel builds upon work done earlier, compounding the investment of effort. A thousand times faster, then ten thousand, then a hundred thousand. Having recently read this book, I was fascinated by the concept of the Flywheel Model, but then I realized that I have already been exposed to this model through my involvement in the Aerospace Public Policy and the Wolfpack CubeSat Development Teams. Over the past three years, I have actively participated and tried to take advantage of all opportunities offered by these programs, and as a result, I was able to gain invaluable knowledge and skills that have helped me across many different aspects of my life.

As I look back at my experiences over the past three years, I recognize that every piece of knowledge and every step in the process was a building block. I recall my first fundamental step when I was provided an opportunity to speak at the Missile Space and Range Pioneers banquet at Cape Canaveral, FL in October 2018. I had just started 6th grade and was nervous and excited at the same time, as this was my first real public speaking experience. As I stood in a room full of Aerospace professionals. I was amazed at how welcoming they were to a group of students and how they embraced what we had to say about our aerospace work. At the end of our presentation, each of us was presented with a lifetime membership award to the Missile Space and Range Pioneers Society. This gesture provided confidence and inspiration to propel me further on these endeavors.

Less than a year and a half later, in February 2020, I found myself attending the Space Exploration Alliance (SEA) Legislative Blitz in Washington DC. Through this event my team and I were able to hold meetings with US Congressmen in order to raise awareness for our House Resolution 85. We developed this piece of legislation to increase awareness for NASA’s educational programs, such as the CubeSat Launch Initiative that we partake in. I once again found myself with a pit in my stomach wondering if these high-ranking officials would take us seriously. We were just a group of young students advocating to increase funding for space exploration in order to accelerate our nation’s course to the Moon, Mars and eventually interplanetary settlements. However, after numerous meetings and conversations, I learned that people in positions of power will listen to those who are passionate about their cause. This could be due to the delegate representation theory which asserts that politicians are in office to be the voice of the people and they are likely to use public opinion to guide their decisions and actions. Most of all, my experience at the SEA Legislative Blitz reinforced my earlier realization that age is not a defining factor, because powerful Congressmen and students can come together in order to improve the lives of fellow citizens and create an impactful change in our nation.


One of the greatest challenges that I think our program has faced over the past three years was the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we continued full speed ahead and the innumerable opportunities that became available through the virtual format helped me stay engaged and continue expanding my knowledge during the times of pandemic. For example, I was able to participate in the international Space Policy and Universalization Debate tournament hosted by the National Space Society. During this event, which spanned over several weeks, I worked with high school students from India and Romania as we competed against teams from around the world in the panel-style debates on topics related to Space Exploration and Universalization. One of the interesting and challenging aspects of this debate event was that we had pre-assigned sides on each topic. Therefore, in several rounds, I had to debate against Space Exploration. Although this was frustrating at times and my team did not win, this was an invaluable learning experience as I was forced to research and fully understand the arguments against Space Exploration. This provided me with an insight of what the other side is thinking and could aid in my advocacy efforts in the future. Through this debate event, I was able to reinforce my belief that Space Exploration is an essential and necessary step in human evolution, because solving some of Earth’s greatest issues is reliant upon the development of space colonies. For example, by creating lunar colonies, we can solve the problem of energy depletion through mining Helium-3, a clean and efficient energy source which is very rare on Earth due to our magnetic field but can be found in large quantities on the lunar surface.


Developing ideas for different space settlements and participating in related competitions is a big part of our work on the Wolfpack CubeSat Development Team as it ignites interest and helps us with our larger objective of developing spacecraft ideas. Therefore, as the pandemic continued, I was excited about the opportunity to lead a team of twenty-three students in Mars City State Design Competition. This international contest for the best design of a self-sustainable Martian settlement was open to any individuals and groups worldwide. Our task was to create a plan for a settlement which could accommodate one million people and address aspects such as: residential and industrial assembly; power, environmental control and life support subsystems; commercial and economic factors as well as societal and government structure. This project was part of a larger goal to asses if humanity would be able to maintain an inter-planetary existence, and if so, how should we approach this undertaking. Our approach was to divide into sub-groups by topic, and as the leader of this project, my duties included overseeing and coordinating between different sub-groups, resolving problems, ensuring consistency and completing the final cohesive document within a specified timeframe. From my position, I was able to take a birds-eye view while overseeing the final work product. I was also able to gain a lot of knowledge by reading “The Case for Mars”, a book by Dr. Robert Zubrin, an aerospace engineer and the founder of the Mars Society. Overall, participating in this competition was an exciting undertaking and a great way to keep us busy during the pandemic. Although our team did not win, this was a great opportunity to compete against older and more experienced participants such as college students, professionals and organizations from around the world. Additionally, this was a great teamwork project that required research and collaboration and helped us develop a wide range of skills. The final project was beyond anything we could have done individually, but through our teamwork, we were able to complete this massive endeavor.


Approaching various aerospace projects with a growth mindset has allowed me to learn how to focus more on gaining knowledge rather than trying to win. This mindset does not always come easy, but I try to remind myself that not all tasks that I undertake will end with a conventional success. I also recognize that success often comes after trial and error. This is why when in 7th grade I had an opportunity to write my own CubeSat proposal and submit it to NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, I decided to undertake this challenging task despite only having one year of aerospace experience. Even though my 7th grade CubeSat proposal was not accepted by NASA, I considered it a success as I was able to learn from this experience and identify areas which I needed to improve on, principally technical knowledge.


To address my shortcomings, over the course of the pandemic summer I tried to learn as much as possible through the Wolfpack CubeSat Development Team webinars. These bi-weekly webinars featured prominent special guests such as Matt Orvis, physicist and engineer with the NearSpace Launch Inc., a company that has played an integral part in helping us with the building process of WeissSat-1 and CapSat-1. Another incredible special guest was Chelsea Partridge who is a test engineer for Lockheed Martin. One of her key pieces of advice was to test each subsystem separately before putting the satellite together, as it would be much easier to identify any problems. In addition to learning through our webinars, I took the opportunity to complete two CubeSat related courses at the MIT Beaver Works Summer Institute, to which I was referred to through our program.

The technical knowledge which I was able to gain through the Wolfpack in the summer of 2020 has helped me in writing our most recent CubeSat proposal, the WolfSat-1. Our team presented this proposal during the Preliminary Design Review at the Kennedy Space Center on October 24, 2020 and subsequently submitted it to NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative on December 14, 2020. WolfSat-1 has a primary educational objective to expand STEM opportunities, and as a secondary focus, a biological research mission to monitor the enzyme activity of Ideonella Sakaiensis (bacterium that can digest polyethylene) in the microgravity environment. If accepted by NASA, this CubeSat will aid in understanding the responses of biological systems to spaceflight and contribute to the efforts of achieving planetary sustainability. In comparison to my first CubeSat proposal which I submitted to NASA in 7th grade, this year I was able to document in greater detail the sub-systems of our proposed CubeSat and their specific functions, as well the overall concept of operations.


Working on this proposal was by far my biggest task as part of the Wolfpack CubeSat Development Team. All of my initial pushes on the flywheel helped me to take on bigger opportunities as the time went on. With each opportunity and with each experience, I was able to grow and gain more knowledge. All of the opportunities presented along the way have helped me to develop a wide range of skills, such as communication, writing, technical knowledge and leadership, and grew upon each other to culminate in the creation of the WolfSat-1 proposal. This proposal was more than just a three-month project, it was a representation of three years of hard work, failures, lessons, and improvements. Therefore, in my opinion, the secret to success is a growth mindset and the willingness to take on challenges, big and small, which can then build upon each other in order to create amazing results.

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